How to Increase Your Willpower: Part Three

So far in this three-part series on willpower, we’ve discussed daily practices and tools surgeons can use to strengthen their willpower muscle, so that they can accomplish their goals and avoid burnout. Today, the final installment is dedicated to strategic ways you can go about exercising your willpower, to increase your chances of success.

Identify the Time of Day When your Willpower is Strongest

No matter how strong it is, willpower fluctuates throughout the day. Some people have more willpower in the morning, while others have more late at night. The key is to figure out when you are most resilient and plan your day accordingly. Find your Rhythm!

For example, if your willpower is weakest one part of the day, that is the best time to have planned ahead with strategies to avoid temptation. I think this is particularly important when working to break a “bad” diet, lifestyle or workday habit.

If your willpower is strongest in the morning, try waking up earlier to tackle key cognitive tasks before meeting with patients, performing routine administrative tasks in the afternoon, and ending your day earlier for recharge activities.

Be Strategic About Handling Key Tasks

For many surgeons, attempting to tackle a large project all at once can rapidly drain their willpower and lead to frustration. Instead, try to chip away at daunting tasks, which can increase your feelings of success, improve your work product, and boost your willpower over time. Chipping away means setting smaller more realistic goals that are achievable. Simplicity!

Choose your Peers Wisely

Spend time with people who have a positive impact on your willpower. For example, surround yourself with other surgeons, friends, and family members who keep you motivated to stay on track with your goals. Conversely, try to minimize contact with people who repeatedly put you in situations where your willpower is tested.


It’s important to remember that this is a process. You’ll inevitably have days where you’re more tested than others, and that’s okay.

Be mindful of situations that challenge your resolve and remember your ultimate objective:

To build your willpower on a daily basis so that you can achieve more sustainable success in your career, life, and relationships without burnout!

Let me know your thoughts!

How to Increase Your Willpower: Part Two

In the first installment of this three-part series, we discussed practices you can incorporate into your daily routine to increase your willpower reserves, so that you can accomplish your goals in a more efficient manner. Today, we’re looking at specific tools that are at your disposal and can be used to give your willpower a boost when you need it most.

To successfully increase your willpower, you’ll need tools that fall into two distinct categories: those that keep you focused and those that help you build new habits. This is because much of building willpower involves staying focused and creating habits that move you closer to your goals.

Tools that Keep you Focused

Of course it’s important for surgeons to be focused in surgery, to ensure that your patients receive safe surgical care. On the October 2016 SurgeonMasters Group Call, Dr. David Hanscom shared his program Awake at the Wound, where they have integrated their Spine fellowship training with sports performance coaching. Basically, Performance = Skill - Interference! Staying focused is about managing and minimizing the different types of interference.

The Boundary Ritual, which I first learned from my friend Dr. Dike Drummond in his book Stop Physician Burnout: What to Do When Working Harder Isn’t Working, is a great tool to keep focus. You can use this tool as part of my 8 PRACTICEs Methodology to focus on each of your roles, but specifically so you can control your attention when you are seeing patients on rounds or in clinic in your doctor-patient role.

When it comes time to perform non-patient related tasks, like doing business or administrative work, writing papers, or working on projects, our willpower is often most vulnerable. To accomplish these tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible, you can use apps or tools to create a less-distracting environment. For example, an application like Freedom or Forest: Stay Focused can block websites that distract you – including your email – so that you can get your work done.  

You can also use a “Do Not Disturb” sign customized to you on your door to limit non-urgent distractions. Doing so will keep you in control of your day and can go a long way towards preventing burnout.

Tools that Build New Habits

Building habits is key to achieving your goals and increasing your willpower. The longer you stick with a new routine in pursuit of a specific objective, the stronger your willpower muscle becomes.

Fortunately, there are numerous tools available to help you build new habits, no matter what your goal is. For example, if you want to lose weight and improve your health, you can track your fitness goals, nutrition, and calories using MyFitnessPal. If you want to build a meditation practice to help manage the stress of your career, try HeadSpace or other popular apps.

Remember, the 8 PRACTICEs Methodology would remind you to:

  • Take one step at a time (Passion for Performance Improvement)

  • Seek your balance in the give and take (Reciprocity of Roles and Relationships)

  • Keep a positive attitude even if these tools don’t seem to work (Attitude Resilience)

  • Comment below to agree/disagree/share your tools (Communication with Mutual Understanding)

  • Get into YOUR rhythm and build momentum (Time/Life Management using Rhythm)

  • Inspire yourself by knowing your goals (Inspire Others to Shared Goals)

  • Keep it simple and practice, practice, practice (Complex Problem Solving through Simplicity)

  • Use energy gained to increase your willpower (Energy for Personal and Practice Wellness)

On next week’s blog, we’ll be talking about key strategies for exercising your willpower muscle to increase your chances of success. In the meantime, try incorporating a few tools into your daily routine to see the effect they have on your willpower.